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Introspection

Introspection

by Marco M. Pardi

Everything can be used as an invitation to meditation. A smile, a face in the subway, the sight of a small flower growing in the crack of a cement pavement, a fall of rich cloth in a shop window, the way the sun lights up flower pots on a window sill. Be alert for any sign of beauty or grace. Offer up any joy, be awake at all moments, to ‘the news that is always arriving out of silence.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, as quoted in Sogyal Rinpoche: The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

Can one be a saint if God does not exist? That is the only concrete problem I know of today.” Albert Camus, The Plague.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. And, all previous posts are open for comment. If you do not wish to comment, please forward this site to someone.

The past few months have certainly brought us opportunities for introspection. The suddenly growing specter of a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus, particularly dangerous to those with underlying conditions and/or challenged immune systems; the simultaneous dismantling of air, water, and food safety regulations by a regime which likely will attempt to steal another national election; and, the national explosion over the growing paramilitary actions of institutions we once called “police” have battered us from every side. But in the spirit of Nir Vana (Sanskrit: beyond wind) it is possible to find oneself in a spontaneous state of timelessness and omnipresence in which we hear our Larger Voice issue the challenge: WTF am I doing here?

Each of us has likely had these moments. I’ve had many; probably some curmudgeon psychiatrist would say, Too many. I do remember many of them and I’ve learned to differentiate them from the rather two dimensional visuals which are pleasing but somehow not fulfilling. Lying on my back on the Sahara Desert, looking up at the stars crowding the night sky was pleasing. But it was Me here, Stars there; not a state of timelessness or oneness, especially when listening for any approaching dangers.

On the other hand, I was dispatched to do a job in a city in the very far North. Unforeseen circumstances required me to extend my stay by a few days so I took the car that had been provided for me and drove into the mountains on the northern edge of the city. Acquiring a map would have drawn unwanted attention, so I just drove. It seemed I must have been the first person to ever use this narrow road; I saw no other vehicles or any signs of humans anywhere. Coming out of a mountain pass I suddenly saw the road drop away to an impossibly vast expanse of snow, earth, and sky. Awestruck, I found a place to conceal the car from the road and walked to an outcrop where I could experience the vista without the sight of the road or the ticking of the car losing heat in the frigid air.

As I sat still on a boulder I at first saw a sight like what is depicted in popular science articles of other planets. I almost looked for two moons, or another sun, a nearby planet. And some “where”, some “time” it was no longer two dimensional. I was in it with everything I could see, and everything I could not see. I was in it long before it took form and long after it dissolved. I was I, and I was i I was the Cosmos beyond time and space, and I was a sub-atomic particle on a dirty speck on the fringe of a minor galaxy moving among billions of galaxies through space. But where on that spectrum do I find myself, the bag of meat I shuffle around in, the “skin encapsulated ego” as Alan Watts described it? Am I just the collection of experiences as they flash through my present and become my past? If so, would that mean I’m just living in the past despite my affirmations to the contrary?

The United States, indeed the world, is having to confront its brutal past, even the fatal shooting that happened just a few nights ago in Atlanta. Many people would take offense at my placing it in the past, but it is. The effects are in the present, not the action itself. And our reactions, which are part of those effects, will become our past. Will they define us as we move into an indefinite future?

Sarah Moss, an outstanding author and instructor of Creative Writing, happened to publish in the June 2020 issue of Travel + Leisure magazine a relevant article. Writing of her move from Cornwall (England) to Coventry (England) she speaks of the transformative power of creatively melding memory with present experience.

Coventry was brutally bombed by the Germans in World War II. The post War rebuilding was hastily done, seemingly searching all the while for a modern form. Thoughts of Cornwall kept coming to Sarah, but she realized one day in Coventry, “I needed to learn to enjoy the place for itself rather than picking out what reminded me most of where I wasn’t.”

She tells of an exercise she uses in her writing workshops: “Go outside…. and find something….a leaf…a stone…a discarded item. ….think about how it grew, or was created, where it began, and what it carried to you.” Her message is almost identical to that of Buddhist Mindfulness.

She goes further and tells us of the 14th century cathedral destroyed in the bombing of Coventry and contrasts its standing remains with the attempts to raise a new city around it. In effect she asks, do we want to erase the past? Or does denial of trauma achieve only repression? Yet in looking at the new buildings she sees the hopes of craftsmen haunted by their past but bringing (some) wartime developed technologies to “a new and better purpose”. She sees that something from the past she asked us to pick up and she learns to appreciate its present.

I remember, as a young boy, walking through the streets of Firenze (Florence) looking at the walls of residences and the sprays of deep pock marks left by heavy machine gun fire, the cracked and broken streets never designed to withstand the crushing weight of the steel treads of armored tanks, all looking as fresh as if they had been gouged there the previous night, not six years before. The legacy of a nation which had submitted to the Siren call of Fascism. Ah, but the economy was rebuilding, repair crews were in the streets, the tourists were coming….to look at treasures remaining from previous centuries and checking them off their lists of must-see. Musn’t let them see the scars of yesterday, the horrors of an earlier childhood.

No one can seriously say our present is pleasant to look at, that it’s an immense vista which invites us into a future of oneness and harmony. But here and there, perhaps obscured just now behind the burning building, that flowing cloud of tear gas, or those waving signs there are those testaments of efforts made over the years on our behalf. They are the rights which still stand even as the courts are increasingly stacked with those who would curtail or obliterate them. They are the institutions which, though chipped and pockmarked by repeated assaults, safeguard our generation and provide for the development of those which will follow.

The regime currently in power in the United States continues to mercilessly assault and bomb the Integrity of the United States, once the cathedral for the aspirations of so many around the world. But come November we will have choices to make: Will we allow the past to become our future? Will we obliterate – repress our past? Or will we marshal the craftsmen who can remold our cathedral into a testament of honest memory upon which we can build a better future? A mistake made is not something to be forgotten; it is a touchstone for assessing and measuring our efforts to make a progression, not a repression.

Grasp the reality we now live in. Understand what has brought it to us. Craft a more pleasing future from it. But don’t pretend it never was.

A Challenge

A Challenge

A Forum for Guest Speakers

Last evening I received a very powerfully written piece in response to my opening of this site as a forum for readers. I sincerely hope you will read it and be inspired to write your own post and send it to me.

Each of us has contacts outside this group. Please consider passing along these very meaningful posts as they come in. My request is reproduced below:

These past few weeks have been packed with fundamental issues which have gone poorly addressed for some time. Each of you saw the impact, as far as New Zealand, the writer of that piece on personal experiences with autism had. I’m hoping you will do the same with issues of concern to you, send it to me, and I will mask you as I did the earlier writer if you wish. Marco

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May Actions Speak Louder Than Words

“I truly believe that compassion provides the basis of human survival, the real value of human life, and without that there is a basic piece missing.” ~ the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness

Thank you, COVID-19 for exposing deeply rooted and long ignored injustice and inequality, and for showing us who truly essential workers are. Thank you for putting the world on pause so we can appreciate racial, gender, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities. I believe that the Great Pause has given us the time to be aware and the momentum to act.

I challenge the reader to let actions speak louder than words. We do not need another corporate email on solidarity without action. So, what can you do?

1. Recognize that great people are average people.

2. Listen. We have two ears and one mouth.

3. Do what you can to better your community.

4. Participate in the political system – vote, send emails, attend town halls.

For some, the capacity for activism and community service may mean staying aware and questioning the stream of propaganda from all sides. Others can volunteer at a local community non-profit for a few hours each month. If you can afford to donate to a charity or be selective on what goods you buy, choose those from sources you think are ethical. For others, community service can be a career.

There is a tale of Two Americas – we are waking up to overt racism and the difference between the Black/Brown and the White America in police brutality, but it does not stop there. We cannot fix our communities – that means helping our neighbors – without recognizing that systematic disparities like food deserts, poverty, unequal access to healthcare services must be fixed. The tale of Two Americas includes urban centers and rural areas – both suffer immense disparities in access to basic services like food or the ability to deliver a healthy baby. Invest in education, invest in women, invest in mental health, invest in services that help average and working people meet their needs. I challenge you to go to any U.S. metropolitan area, look at mansions, then look across the street at run-down apartments and not feel a sense of disgust. Is this the Great America we want to return to? Because I do not.

Finding Peace

Finding Peace

by Marco M. Pardi

There is no such thing as perpetual Tranquility of mind while we live here; because Life itself is but Motion and can never be without Desire, nor without Fear, no more than without Sense.”

Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan.

I do not want the peace which passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.” Helen Keller

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are open for comment. If you do not feel like commenting, you might pass this along to someone else, perhaps someone you intensely dislike.

If you are not deeply troubled by current events going on in the United States you are likely not breathing. As such, you are not concerned about breathing in Covid-19, the lethal virus our Dear Leader assured us was a “Democratic hoax” and would disappear “like a miracle”. You are not concerned about the tear gas breathed in by increasing numbers of peaceful protesters. Least of all you are not concerned about the greatly increased air pollution generated by the roll back of the Clean Air Act and other environmental safeguards under cover of the other headline issues. No need to check your pulse; you need a heart for that.

By now some readers have assumed I have not found peace. But then, the people who read this site and especially those who comment are of the cerebral type, so no surprise there. What has initially surprised me are the ways increasing numbers of people have adopted as means of finding peace. Turn off the television; watch the knitting channel; meditate; watch porn videos; read a superficial novel; go on an isolated vacation; etc. But all of these are inherently selfish. The common denominator is: Don’t speak out, don’t get involved. These are coping mechanisms, they are not solutions.

Meditation is excellent in the proper context, but it should lead to something beyond the self. And, I was never a fan of vacations, even when faced with “use it or lose it”. Vacations too often are just a different source of stress.

Some Christian people have increased church attendance. But wasn’t Jesus put to death at least partly because of his strident resistance to oppression? How can these people call themselves Christian if they just seek the selfish acquisition of momentary peace?

I communicate with a wide variety of people. Ordinarily that exposes me to several different subjects and perspectives. But now, beneath those surface discussions there is a tension, an often unspoken Keep Calm and Carry On which is increasingly threadbare. The nationwide, and now international explosion over the killing of George Floyd is not outrage over the killing of one man; it was the explosion of rage over generations of this treatment. But this is not simply a “racial” issue; it is the clash of the Haves vs the Have Nots. And I’m not talking just about money or material goods. I’m talking about opportunity.

Early on in this current situation we may have hoped it was “the last straw”. But the deep undercurrents of a centralized ethic held by a very small minority of “Americans” are rising up in response, voiced by a call from the minority winner of the last Presidential election for the American military to act with violence against the American people. This is the man who mocked police for guarding a suspect’s head while he was put into a squad car. “Slam ’em in there! Rough ’em up!” This is the man who told his rally audiences to beat up demonstrators; he would pay any legal costs.

If this call for the military is heeded, and acted upon, there is no predicting the outcome. And coping mechanisms are mere band-aids on the deep psychic wound of uncertainty. When we do turn on the television, put down the novel, or return exhausted from a “restful” vacation what will our world be? Will we have to convince ourselves we live in freedom? Must we chant patriotic freedom mantras to make it so? Or should we drop that pretense altogether?

Check out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Presented in a pyramidal graph, the basic need second from the bottom is Safety and Security. What safety and security are we feeling today? Without the satisfaction of this basic level we cannot find peace, no matter the daily litany of lies told us by Our Dear Leader and his minions.

Some years ago, toward the end of a long and highly varied career with the federal government, I realized I needed to reclaim my humanity. And the best way for me to do that was to return to college teaching, even if only part-time. I did so during the Bush administration and most of Obama’s two terms. I enjoyed helping students discover themselves and develop the confidence to move forward into careers, of whatever kind, with understanding and self esteem. But health uncertainties caused me to withdraw from teaching in 2014. Now I wonder, over the past three years of frank and outright greed, hatred, and looting of the public funds and of the aspirations of so many, how I could stand in front of a class and honestly encourage them to find peace in their self confidence and in their developing wisdom.

Many people know I have a long history in the study of Thanatology and many years in its application. This also has been beneficially useful in conversing with friends and relatives about the one reality we hold in common. But recently I’m hearing, among some who are dealing with serious medical issues, a growing hymn of “Why should I fight to remain in a world of ecological destruction and greed driven political viciousness? This is not the world I would want to live in.”

Do you have a coping mechanism for that? We’ve heard the promises and assurances before, only to see the situation worsen as we turned our attention elsewhere. Some new series on Netflix. A Hollywood divorce scandal. The SuperBowl. What will do it for us this time? What will bring us peace?

Come November, unless the regime – including the stacked Supreme Court – succeeds is suspending elections we may vote the entire collection of vile grifters and Fascists out of office. But then, what have we accomplished? Will we have found peace, or only silence from those who still live among us? Yes, we can “change the system” through legislation. But we can legislate actions, not feelings and beliefs.

Any day now I will get a call for testing to see if I’m a bone marrow donor for a dear cousin, the youngest of our generation. With even successful chemo (which she’s been given a 15% chance of surviving) the transplant might raise her odds to 50% after the chemo. I will not find peace in her ordeal, but I will find a measure of peace in my trying to help. And I am looking after my own health. As I’ve said before, I was born into Mussolini’s Fascist Italy and I do not want to book-end my life dying in yet another Fascist dictatorship.

Pax vobiscum. Marco

Social Darwinism

Social Darwinism

by Marco M. Pardi

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply.

In a galaxy long ago and far away a boy experienced primary and secondary school under the tutelage of cloistered Ursuline nuns and monks of the Brothers of the Holy Cross. Among the lessons they imparted to him the one which recurred most often was: The most meaningful and long lasting lessons are those which arise from excruciatingly painful mistakes. No pain, no gain?

Later, as a grown man, he looked back at life through that principle and decided he must have learned a great deal. And chief among that learning was the realization that there are no mistakes and there is no justification for claiming credit.

As with other discoveries, it didn’t take long for someone to borrow a principle from biology and attempt to apply it to sociology. But it was actually Thomas Henry Huxley who coined the term Darwinism, and Emilie Gautier who originally used the phrase social Darwinism. Herbert Spencer originated the phrase Survival of the fittest. Darwin himself would have rejected the latter two phrases, especially since fittest came to be measured as closer to the White Race and the cultural and economic characteristics thereof. In fact, Darwin’s concept of fit was purely biological: Fitness was measured by reproductive capability and environmental adaptation, not individual strength or the size of one’s bank account. Nonetheless, social Darwinism was quite popular throughout the latter 19 century and early 20th, falling from grace only after the exposure of the horrendous Nazi eugenics (eu – good; genics – genetic structure).

Although social Darwinism is now rarely mentioned in intelligent company, the feelings still prevail in some subcultures and even in some Western religions. Social and economic success is viewed by some as proof of “God’s” approval, much the same as military success in slaughtering another population meant “God was on our side”. And, it lives on in some forms of entertainment such as the “Darwin Awards”, publicizing stupid acts which end in disaster for the participants.

But what about those lessons? I recall bridling at authority figures seeking to control my behavior and saying, “Let me make my own mistakes”. Yet as a parent I certainly wanted to prevent negative outcomes for my child, but I also saw undue protection, insulation from reality, as a negative form of parenting. How could I distinguish between a behavior that could result in a sore bottom from falling versus a behavior which could result in a broken neck? When do I agree to remove the training wheels from the bicycle? At what point do I assert my experience based judgment and intervene? And how well could I defend my assertion of caution if I had only presumptions of danger, not factual experience of negative results?

Somewhat later I observed a form of threat that was immediately effective. While working in a Sexually Transmitted Infections public health clinic in a very rough part of a huge city part of my duties included translating for the physicians working there and for the patients. As patients checked in they were given a number so as to protect their privacy. Usually, I would step into the waiting room and call out three numbers so these individuals could come forward for me to draw blood from them. But one afternoon our Vietnamese physician, a rather severe looking man, stepped into the waiting room with me and called out three numbers. No one moved. He called again, and received only surly looks. The physician then turned to me and loudly said, “Rett dem die. Rett dem aww die” and turned back into the examining rooms. I was almost knocked down by the three bodies rushing in after us. Later, in that and other similar clinics in the early years of HIV I sat with patients and explained to them that their HIV positive results meant they could engage in only safe sex or they would transmit an incurable, non-treatable and almost certainly fatal disease to someone. I signed that counseling session into their medical records. And, I saw them return again and again to be treated for gonorrhea, a certain indicator they had engaged in unsafe sex. I doubt any of them told their partner of their disease status before engaging in sexual contact.

I’ve also read of judges ordering young reckless drivers to spend a number of hours in a hospital emergency room and/or the morgue. Recalling the hour in the Air Force doing required – for all personnel – viewing of such films as Slaughter on the Highways, a particularly graphic film, I can’t say it had much if any effect on how I drove my sports car. My main concern was repair costs, not safety.

So I began to wonder. Just what does it take to get someone to understand the potential seriousness of their choices? Do I have rights and responsibilities, and how far do they extend? I recall thinking, Let the stupid go on killing themselves. A kind of social Darwinism. I remember the saying that, in democracies, people get the government they deserve. The 2016 presidential election was a clear example of what happens when otherwise intelligent people decide to sit out an election and hand off the choice to “the other guy”. It’s like assuming your sexual partner has been forthright with you, or that the driver of the car you are in is mindful of highway safety. You become collateral damage.

But does that really sink in? We’ve come to the point on this planet where we are reaching the incurable, even un-treatable level of damage to our ecosystem. The incomprehensible greed of a numerically tiny portion of the American population is abusing (I’ll spare you the metaphor) all life as we know it on this planet. I’m aware that, following my lengthy rants about the environment, some readers of my columns have found other things to do. I will say, however, I have challenged officials from the White House on down to the local level to answer my question of: Why should I not seek their indictment on charges of Reckless Endangerment. Were I to print the responses I’ve received I could paper the inside of my house.

But I’m speaking not only for my daughter and my grandchildren but for all life on this planet, including humans too stupid to act on their own behalf. “Rett dem die” is a social Darwinist fantasy. If it were only them I could entertain the notion. But our dishonest partners in this life and the glibly careless, thrill seeking drivers of our economic rape of life on this planet are killing more than themselves.

Over these past few years I admit to having thoughts of just keeping quiet, letting ignorance and stupidity cull the herd. I’ve thought that only a major cataclysm, if even that, will change any behaviors. Unfortunately, like the lights coming up on a stage, the full awareness of all that would be harmed by a cataclysm brought on the by the ignorance or stupidity of a few simply overwhelms any resolve I may have had to remain quiet.

There are those who endeavor to still my voice and the voices and efforts of others like me, but we will force them out onto the field under their true colors: Greed, Avarice, and Gluttony. MAGA. Make America Gag Again. Maybe this time we’ll actually vomit out these toxins.

Normal

Normal

by Marco M. Pardi

The condition of alienation, or being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. R.D. Lang. The Politics of Experience. 1967.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response. All previous posts are also open for comment.

For many years a common truism in popular psychology has been that clients in counseling feel much better when they are told their fears and fantasies are normal. It seems there is some innate desire to conform to the group to which one feels he or she belongs. This desire takes over even when we know there are problems. For example, we talk about sunrise and sunset even while knowing the sun does not move; it is an acceptable cultural illusion. But we don’t refer true believers in sunrise and sunset for psychological counseling, or at least a primary school science class. As the hideous phrase goes, we go along to get along.

Of course, there are escape valves from the culture game, if only imaginary. As a youngster who never seemed to fit in I slipped quietly through the folding doorways we call book covers, into societies of the past and societies of the future. In a well structured narrative I could feel quite normal. But at some point I recognized the problem: As long as I brought ME into that society everything was actually abnormal precisely because I was a person of one era slipping into a life, albeit fictional, in another era. And that, making everything new and strange, was the attraction. But if I had somehow truly been in that era I would have no awareness of a person from another era. I would feel normal. That is, no different from the person I was without the book. SNAFU (situation normal, all fucked up).

So, all these years I’ve been living in the normal, until the abnormal election of Donald Trump. And since then I’ve been advised to get used to the “new normal”. But what exactly is, or will be that new normal? At first it seemed to be a U.S. president who lied about everything. It was not that lies were never told before, but never told in these numbers and about anything and everything. But after the press counted over 17,000 outright lies and misleading statements we stopped getting the daily or even weekly counts. I guess we reached the new normal. Oh, Trump is speaking; it’s all lies. Move along folks, nothing to see here.

And then something new came along. And, of course, Trump lied. He said it was not as bad as the yearly flu. He said in the first warm days of Spring it would disappear “like magic”. How are these lies and not just mistakes or wishful thinking? Because early last Fall he was warned by the medical divisions of the intelligence agencies exactly what we were in for. His earlier de-funding of the scientific panels comprised of experts from across the science community to assess and develop mitigation for pandemics did not stop that community from also warning him….again. But there were deals to cut, money to be made, and career professionals who testified at his impeachment hearings to fire.

Okay, so we know stupidity yields bad results. Trump has been here a while, the country is more divided than it has ever been since the Civil War; this is normal. But covid19 is still relatively new, and so it merits examination for what it may usher in as the “new normal”. In times like these it is vitally important that we are aware of, understand, and take steps to rectify what we don’t see as much as what we do see.

The general public apparently does not see that, while our eyes are on the apocalyptic cloud of covid19, our lives are being changed, and even threatened by an orgy of de-regulation, hand-outs to mega-pollutant industries, incubation of a host of diseases in overcrowded holding facilities for migrants and asylum seekers, and rushed appointments of ultra-conservative judges to oversee it all.

And once the pandemic is under an as yet undetermined level of control, awaiting us all is the prospect of returning to jobs, gratuitous shopping, packing ourselves into mass transit vehicles, frolicking at “concerts” and sporting events; a better normal than ever before. Or so we are told. By a man who lies about the day of the week.

New normal. A recently completed and peer reviewed study from Harvard confirms what we have suspected for decades: Environmental pollution, particularly air pollution, provides the “underlying condition” that greatly contributes to fatalities associated with pulmonary viral infections. And, figures are already clearly showing higher corvid19 fatality rates in areas of the country blanketed by greater intensities of air pollution. But, the regime in the White House has made it clear they value money more than human life, or any other life on the planet. The regime is removing controls on the coal industry, allowing much greater levels of mercury, arsenic, lead, acid gasses, and lethal particulates to enter the atmosphere from coal fired plants.

This action by the regime rolls back the more than 80% reduction in mercury in the past decade. Mercury causes brain damage in infants. Although airborne in coal plant emissions, it settles in fresh water and penetrates filtration systems to find its way into drinking water and products made with water. No problem; both the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are being emasculated to the point of being meaningless. Thus, no violations.

Arsenic, chromium and nickel are carcinogenic. Lead damages children’s nervous systems. Acid gasses cause serious lung disease. All are multiplying exponentially in our environment under the regime’s deregulation.

The Clean Air standards in place until the Trump administration saved 11,000 lives per year and prevented 7,400 heart attacks and thousands of asthma attacks. The health cost benefits were over $90 billion per year, outweighing the costs at a 9–1 ratio.

One would think a political party that loves money more than life would jump at that cost ratio. Well, no. Not when the owners of the for profit health and insurance industries are almost exclusively members of that same political party. They fight the Affordable Care Act and MediCare and MediCaid while promising (for decades) to provide a better health plan. So far, that plan seems to go as follows: The regime’s policies make you sick, you gladly pay to get well. Or, you die. Welcome to the New Normal.

As the fossil fuel industry, the truck and auto manufacturers, and the beef and pork producers frolic amidst the severely reduced emissions standards, particularly the super planet warming methane, the majority of people appear largely unaware of the melting circumpolar permafrost and its implications. Permafrost is a mixture of organic material and soil frozen in place for thousands of years. As it melts due to global warming vast amounts of methane from decomposed organics are released into the atmosphere, hastening the melting further. But along with that released methane is an unknown reservoir of hitherto dormant viruses, known as paleo-viruses. It is almost certain that many, if not most of these paleo-viruses have never encountered Man. And, of course, we therefore have no herd immunity to them. How are these paleo-viruses a threat for those who do not go near the polar regions? Simple. As the exposed soil dries and breaks down to dust the circumpolar winds, including the Jetstream, pick up the dust and blow it around the planet. I’m betting some of that dust in your home is micro-sand from the Sahara, and dust from Siberia.

The current political party in power in the U.S. has a long history of trashing health sciences, even defunding programs such as pandemic preparedness and response groups. All while rushing to provide us with the next pandemic.

Another landscape change we are now getting glimmers of is the effect of isolation, social distancing, home schooling, and unemployed family members on the children who will survive this pandemic. Calls to Domestic Abuse Hotlines have skyrocketed. Gun sales are soaring (gun dealers are considered “essential businesses”). Schools districts that can afford to do so are delivering meals to kids at their homes, or the kids go without. And districts that can afford it supply cheap laptop computers to home bound children so they can continue their school year. Of course, in areas with no internet access this issue is pointless. In homes where the electricity has been cut off because the now unemployed parents can’t pay, this issue is pointless. To worsen matters for children, several Republican governors are trying to completely ban all abortions – except a few “saving the life of the mother” – in their States under the utterly spurious guise of “conserving needed Personal Protective Equipment”. This condemns women to carry and deliver babies they will never be able to care for, seriously detracting from their ability to care for children they may already have.

An untold number of children are seeing their beloved pets dumped, at shelters or on the street, because their families can no longer afford to feed and care for them. I wonder how this shapes the psyche of the child.

But the ultimate example of Pointless might be what had up to now been the child’s willingness to enter into and contribute to what he had thought was a well functioning society. Can we now fault a child for turning his back on the pointless?

So what is to be our “new normal”? Will it be the incredible, never seen before, beautiful economic rebound promised by the loud mouthed, rotund carny-barker in the White House? Will it be a generation of young people hardened to think and act only for themselves as our planet becomes unfit to sustain human life? Will they see government service as merely a pathway to the satisfaction of greed? Or will there be an awakening that will throw off the nightmare that ignorance and frank stupidity has brought us?

Will we notice? Or will it all be “normal”?

A Journey

Voting Age

Voting Age

by Marco M. Pardi

When people put their ballots in the boxes, they are, by that act, inoculated against the feeling that the government is not theirs. They then accept, in some measure, that its errors are their errors, its aberrations their aberrations, that any revolt will be against themselves. It’s a remarkably shrewd and rather conservative arrangement when one thinks about it.” John Kenneth Galbraith. The Age of Uncertainty 1977

One day, you will perish. You will lie with the rest of your kind in the dirt…your dreams forgotten, the horrors you faced. Your bones will turn to sand. And upon that sand, a new god will walk. One that will never die. Because this world doesn’t belong to you, or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come.

Dolores, in ‘Westworld’

All pertinent comments are welcome and will receive a response.

In recent months, perhaps as part of the support for the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang, we’ve seen increasing calls for lowering the voting age in the Untied States. It is currently at 18 years of age, lowered from a long standing 21 years in 1971. One of the greatest influences on that lowering was the Vietnam war, a war into which 18 year olds were sent to slaughter before ever gaining a say in the policy decisions which would send them there or keep them home.

I reached 18 in the Fall of 1960. At that time U.S. involvement in Vietnam, started by Eisenhower and continued by Kennedy, was relatively minimal and Kennedy was working to end military involvement altogether. Nonetheless, the military Draft was in effect, requiring all males who could pass a very basic physical examination to serve two years in the Army. Some short reserve time may have been added on but I did not look twice at the two years of marching in circles in the Army, choosing for personal reasons a six year commitment to a particular specialty in the Air Force instead. So, I turned 21 and beyond in uniform and a different form of government service while also gaining my higher education. By my 21st birthday I had lived on three continents, interacted with a wide variety of people in various levels and positions, and completed several college courses. I felt I was better prepared for the 1964 Presidential elections than I would have been had I stayed home. Yet, having spent these years immersed in the principles of rigidly compartmentalized information – right and need to know – I had doubts about the grounds on which I based my decision. How could I be sure Barry Goldwater would or would not use nuclear weapons to stem the flow of support from North Vietnam to the insurgents in South Vietnam? How could I have known Lyndon Johnson would accelerate troop deployment into what grew to be a half million personnel at any one time in that theater? What companies stood to reap immense profits from an expanded war? What would happen to the Civil Rights movement if Johnson lost? These, and similar questions were among those I considered in making my decision.

Looking around the world today we see an array of countries having, or professing, some form of democracy. About as varied as the forms, the voting ages vary; the range of beginning eligibility runs from 15 years to 25 years. In each case the presumption is that age is a reliable marker of maturity. Of course, we know there are exceptions on both ends of the scale. Some are “wise beyond their years” and others seem unable to get there no matter how we extend the time. In recent years we have seen advances in neuroscience and developmental psychology which suggest maturity, especially as reflected in decision making, is more delayed than we had thought. But culture has always been both the safety net and the fertile ground for maturation; it has supported those who could not grow and nourished those who could. Yet, has culture – specifically in the U.S., become so rich and diversified as to lose its power to focus on critically important issues when they arise? Are we raising a generation so over enriched, or so distracted, as to be unable to wisely choose?

For example, the Jeffersonian principle of separation of church and state was a radical turning point in human history. Until then there was no question of such a separation simply because no one conceived of a daily life not enveloped in what could be called religious principles. People didn’t so much see themselves as acting religiously as they saw themselves as acting correctly, especially for their age group. Thus, the developmental stages of children normally included some marker, or rite of passage signaling the change from childhood to adulthood. In the West the “People of the Book”, Jews, Christians and Muslims ritually marked this transition with Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah, Confirmation, and Baaligh (maturity). These all have in common: Puberty, 12 – 15 years old. For the Japanese, however, adulthood is recognized at age 20 with the celebration of Seijin Shiki. Are the Japanese slower to mature? Certainly not.

Yes, 21 is still the “legal age” in the U.S. for certain transactions and permissions but, beyond being three (a magic number in the West) times seven (the traditional Age of Reason in the West) what is so magically special about 21? Some of us remember 21 with a shudder.

Anyone who is even marginally aware of the world around him must know that our world is increasing in risk at exponential rates. Our nuclear technology can wipe us off the Earth in a flash. Our fossil fuel technology can stupid us off the Earth in a bit longer. I think I need not reiterate what I have discussed in so many previous posts.

And so I cannot bring myself to glibly endorse some arbitrary age as meeting the wisdom to cast votes which affect the future of my daughter and grandchildren. But then people say in our democratic republic we elect representatives who understand the issues better than us and vote for us. Really? Has anyone reviewed the lasting impact of the “Tea Party” subsection of the Republican Party, the subsection that got its entire Party labeled “The Party of No”? Has anyone reviewed the documented quotes of Senate leader Mitch McConnell who said on several occasions after the election of Barack Obama, “Our first priority is to make this a failed Presidency!”? Failed Presidency? Is this how we voted for the betterment of the country? It seems to me age was not the issue here; wisdom was.

But how do we go about determining whether a person is wise enough to be granted the power to vote? Some States use simple tests to grant the power to drive a four wheeled deadly weapon to people at age 16. The assumption here is that passage of the test indicates the person now empowered will continue to use that power wisely. Of course, they will pay a price if they do not. But who pays the price for driver error in the voting booth? You, me, and the generations to come.

For twenty two years I taught various levels of Anthropology, Thanatology, and Critical Thinking in private and public universities, colleges, and community colleges in four widely separated States. I greatly preferred the community colleges for their wide range of student age (17 – 82) and the breadth and depth of experience and thought brought to the classroom. At a State college I also taught Anthropology classes to “Gifted Children”, junior high school students. Across the spectrum I found that my best students were Central and Eastern Europeans, including Russia and Ukraine. They were far better able to assimilate facts and to project the short term and long term consequences. Although there were exceptions, students completely educated in the U.S. tended more toward short term self interest, likely products of a two dimensional educational system.

And so, I am inclined to see an arbitrary voting age as missing the point. The world has grown infinitely more complex, and potentially dangerous, since the Founding Fathers of the U.S. wrote their fine words in the Constitution and other related documents. We can no longer afford acceptance of a vote based simply on the age and the casually apparent mental fitness of the voter. Ideally, I would like to see some form of voter qualification test, administered orally if needed. We certainly have a wealth of experts who could devise such a test.

Looking back over these last 3 ½ years, are you still comfortable putting your life and your future, and the lives and futures of your children, in the hands of just anyone of a certain age?

Your thoughts – or votes, if you prefer – will be greatly appreciated.

 

Metanoia

Metanoia

by Marco M. Pardi

Attempts at reform, when they fail, strengthen despotism, as he that struggles tightens those cords he does not succeed in breaking.” C. C. Colton. Many Things in Few Words; Addressed to those who think. 1823.

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A reader, hopeful the Untied States will somehow come through the Trump regime and return to a functional democracy, suggested I write about how Italy survived Fascism. I very much appreciate suggestions and I will try herein.

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I suppose it is coincidence that I sit here writing this in the early Spring. For many people this is a period of Nature’s rebirth. But rebirth is a misleading concept since it implies that something rose from the dead. Sorry, but the dead don’t rise, at least not in physical form despite the enthusiasm for Easter. Metanoia is an elegant synonym for conversion, not rebirth. It is metamorphosis on a spiritual level.

Years ago I knew a young woman in Munich named Renate – “reborn”. I always wanted to ask her what she remembered about her previous life, but never did. But there were certainly those around her who remembered a previous life they seemed to want the world to forget. Some of the much older ones had been ardent members of the Nazi Party, and I suspected still would be had the Party itself survived. Some showed me photographs of themselves in their officer’s uniforms, complete with swastika armband. It showed me that, like those trees I had been certain were dead in Winter, there were threads of life in depths to which I was not normally privy.

Currently HBO is running a series titled, The Plot Against America. I do not know the average age of my readers or their typical background. But even if the reader has no personal experience with the Untied States of the late 1930’s and early to mid 1940’s the horrendous treatment of Jews and other minorities must rivet attention, and concern. The story line is that Charles Lindberg won the Republican presidential nomination to run against F.D.R. Lindberg, along with Henry Ford and many other highly placed figures including Prescott Bush, patriarch of the Bush political dynasty, was a leading light in the American Fascist movement so active in combating the Labor movement and the rise of the American Communist Party. The American Fascist movement was instrumental in stoking the virulent Red Scare that began in the ’30’s and lasted into the ’60’s.

As the Plot Against America series is currently playing I cannot say how closely it matches the portrayal of those years in the astounding academic study, Under the Axe of Fascism by Gaetano Salvemini (which I have). Nonetheless, it has sparked renewed – and largely new interest in how Fascism got started and how, officially at least, it was defeated in Italy. Why do I say “officially”? Because you can ban an activity but you can’t ban a held belief or feeling.

So how did it get started? To answer that we need to return to the period at the end of the First World War. Unified in 1870 by Garibaldi, Italy was officially a parliamentary monarchy until 1946. But growing dissatisfaction with the economic recovery after WWI coupled with the attraction of the Soviet Union empowered a young and aggressive Prime Minister Benito Mussolini to gather more power, especially with the help of the Roman Catholic Church. Both the Church and Mussolini’s Blackshirts were violently opposed to the growing labor movement, and especially the Soviet concept of communism. The monarch, King Victor Emmanuel III, stepped back from the conflict and effectively abdicated power to Mussolini. Soon after, Mussolini banned all political parties except his Fascist Party.

But what exactly was Fascism? In his autobiography (which I also have) Mussolini summed it up succinctly: Fascism is corporatism. This should sound so familiar to Americans as to obviate the need for explanation. Americans know it as the Military-Industrial Complex. It is the Dark Money from corporations which supports the party that gives them free rein to do as they please, this being accomplished through legislation passed by the wholly owned subsidiary known as the U.S. Congress. As the corporations plunder their way to the dizzy heights of the Stock Exchange they make sure to share the spoils with the politicians who enable them, thus perpetuating the power of those politicians. The military ensures access to the resources and the cheap labor needed by the corporations.

In a short time one’s chances for employment in Fascist Italy were based more on Party membership and connections than on qualifications. Obviously, this presented ethical problems to those who were already well educated in their fields and/or who came from families long established in those fields. People were careful to obtain Party membership and pay “lip service” as needed while keeping their own counsel. Put simply, what looked to the outside world like a monolithic Fascist State was in fact a hidden mosaic of sub rosa members of the previously existing Parties augmented by a growing resistance to the regime.

Yet, there were fractures. The country was divided by a class structure heavily weighted by family provenance more than mere money. My family, including those added by marriage, traced far back in higher academia, the arts, and the highest ranks of the military. Some of those roots developed into Fascist trees, others did not. The “middle class” of Italy was largely quiet, waiting to see the effects on business, while the lower class simply adjusted to a different yoke.

Beneath the veneer the mosaic of famous Italian disagreements waited for when it was safe to resurface. There may have been only one political Party, but there was a universe of different feelings and opinions. These manifested occasionally as the war dragged on. Many Italian troops saw the battles as just not their fight.

And then it came. The King had Mussolini arrested and imprisoned. The Germans turned on the Italians and freed Mussolini. The Italians captured him again and killed him; this was a blunder by those who captured him. Italy did NOT “switch sides”, as the simplistic American history books like to say. Italy overthrew a dictator and reformed itself. Various Italian factions, each looking to the long game, joined with the Allies to drive the Germans out of Italy. The mosaic of different values and nascent political parties, once thought dead, arose. The parliamentary system returned, this time without the monarchy. It had experienced metanoia.

Of course, the revolving door governments that followed were soon the butt of jokes especially in the Untied States. But many saw this as a laboratory experiment in democracy. When elected officials fail to perform to expectations they are voted out.

The Untied States have developed what amounts to a new quasi-class: Politicians. Making matters worse, this class has hardened into two sides. And many would say they are two sides of the same coin. Or Good Cop – Bad Cop; but both cops. Supposedly Trump was the anti-politician, sent by the people to overturn the tables in the temple and drive out the money changers. Unfortunately, too many people fail to understand that not all politicians hold public office. Many of the most radical ones are “special advisers” and other behind the scenes specialists. Trump, like several other famous “leaders” in history, is simply a rabble-rousing front man for these people.

The Untied States need a true metanoia, a metamorphosis away from a class of professional place holders and a return of power into the hands of the people. Violence is simply out of the question, though many domestic groups openly favor it. But this raises the question: Is the American public ready and willing to accept not just the power but also the responsibility to administer itself?

Throughout American history there have been – and are – several “issue Parties”, some larger and some smaller. But they routinely garner little general interest and, when they do seem to rise to the national stage only manage to drain votes away from some truly qualified candidates; their notable contribution is as a “spoiler”.

I have long and often advocated for an American Parliamentary system. There are several very successful models in this world. But I suspect that Americans are too entombed in “how it has always been” to take the courageous step of metanoia.

Al Ghurba

Al Ghurba

…the land of strangers…

by Marco M. Pardi

There is only one sort of genuine socialism, the democratic sort, by which I mean the organization of society for the benefit of the whole people.” George Bernard Shaw

All comments will receive a response.

While clouds of evil coronavirus obscure the thoughts in the minds of a growing number of Americans another cloud is gathering in the background. This cloud, arguably more deadly than covid 19, is both visible and audible; the problem is in its sinister ability to appear harmless, even benevolent. It is the cloud of disinformation, misdirection, and outright lies developing in the infected lungs and dissolving psyches of what is still mistakenly called the Republican Party as it prepares to solidify its hold on power in the Fall and bury the last vestiges of a democratic society.

Let’s be clear from the start: There is no international law governing what a state can call itself. Thus, we have The Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Do we really think these places are democratic? Of course not. I have frequently pointed to those State level societies which call themselves Communist and explained how true communism has never existed at higher than the Band level (up to about 80 members) of society. Yet, major population blocs have labeled themselves communist and some still do even as it is evident they are simply totalitarian states.

We in the Untied States are now moving into another era of misunderstanding and mislabeling: we are approaching another round of Presidential elections. One side of the traditionally two sided contest is already set; no one dares to challenge the supremacy, indeed the sanctity of the aging wannabe Mussolini doppleganger currently in the Casa Blanca. On the other side the contest seems to have come down to two aging possibilities: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

Biden seems to be MOTS, More Of The Same while Sanders labels himself a democratic socialist. Probably intended to soften the term socialism, democratic socialist, like democratic republican (the U.S. calls itself a democratic republic), is a bit of an oxymoron. Each of them implies citizen participation in decision making but that participation can go only so far. The democratic socialist elects the government which makes the overarching, large decisions and the democratic republican elects the representatives who do the same. They are mirror images of each other with the exception of how intrusively they regulate and control such factors as private ownership.

But even such societal idols as the right of private ownership are hazed over. In the U.S. no one disputes your right to own a car; but there is a multitude of regulations governing how you can use that car. And this split between the right to own and the right to use symbolizes a fundamental reason why socialism, by whatever label, cannot succeed in a society like the Untied States. That reason, the very essence of what makes the U.S. what it is, is never stated in terms of why socialism would fail. That reason is: Diversity.

A fundamental defining element of a culture is language. According to the U.S. Census Bureau there are at least 350 languages spoken in the U.S. Many of these speakers do not yet speak English. Some never will.

Some sources say there are as many cultures in the U.S. as there are in the world. I have some experience with these as, during my career with CDC my degrees in Anthropology and my facility with languages brought me continuous domestic and international assignments for which linguistic and cultural skills were mandatory. In situations wherein I had neither the language nor a suitable lingua franca upon which to rely I employed basic anthropological tactics to communicate. But even then it was imperative that I knew to gear those tactics to what was culturally acceptable and appropriate.

My point here is that, far more fundamental than the “Conservative”, far-right fear mongering over what socialism would mean to your (read: their) bank account, socialism can work only in societies characterized by a strong sense of solidarity. Rudely put, people care about others who look and sound like themselves. People are willing to forego, even contribute a certain amount of personal capital for others they presume to share their values, life experiences, ethics, and dreams. But when that term – other – takes the form of Other the situation changes dramatically.

Consider this small example. You are driving along an Interstate highway. You have not seen a State Patrolman in hours, if at all. Over a rise in the land you see a disabled car on the road shoulder, a woman and two young children standing by it. They are Black. Further along you see another disabled car on the shoulder, and a woman and two small children standing beside it. They are White. Which group will be the first to experience a motorist stopping to be of help, or even a cellphone being lifted to report the problem? Now replay that scenario and put the woman in a hijab.

The U.S. has several federal and state laws regulating behavior which could be construed as discriminatory. We can regulate actions. We cannot regulate feelings. When idealistic people who dream and expound on the marvels of socialism cite examples such as the Scandinavian countries they fail to recognize, much less speak of one central characteristic: although they have small minority populations within them, they are overwhelmingly homogenous.

Unfortunately, people like Bernie Sanders who wave the flag of socialism, albeit sweetened with “democratic”, hand the most powerful tool possible to their neo-fascist opponents: a direct and personal threat to how people feel. Time and again we have seen how elections are won on feelings, not on considered intellectual choices. The 2016 presidential election was not won by the neo-fascists – aka Republican Party. It was won by the expert manipulation of feelings conducted by very highly trained Russian operatives, masters of reaching into the depths of the human psyche no regulations can touch. They know how to easily coax the unsophisticated American voter into conflating socialism with communism, socialism with loss of personal capital, and loss of personal freedom. As the saying goes, They know where, when, and how to push all the right buttons. And the domestic neo-fascists have studied and learned these lessons well.

We greet each other, we behave toward each other in the civilly prescribed manners, but we live in al ghurba – the land of strangers. And the voting booths will soon prove it.

Rights

Rights

by Marco M. Pardi

If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” St. Francis of Assisi

For the third time in a training session Tonio refused the Training Master’s directive that he put a spiked choke chain on his attack dog. “It’s just not necessary, and it breaks the trust between dog and handler that could have fatal results later.”

Hours later Tonio overheard the Training Master in a heated argument with the Unit NCOIC. The TM was arguing for Court-Martial charges; the NCOIC, tolerant to this point of the TM’s brutal training methods, refused and offered an alternative: a public competition in which 21 dogs and handlers would compete. The teams would have 21 days to prepare and Tonio would be allowed to employ his own methods of training and working with his dog.

All comments are welcome and will receive a response.

In this era of thoroughly outrageous health care costs a common saying has emerged: Health care is a human right. Admittedly, that’s a catchy saying and fits nicely on a bumper sticker. But I pay close attention to words, and especially to the concepts they are used to transmit. In this case the predicate seems to be that humans, simply by being human, have certain universal and undeniable rights. Who decided that? Non-humans? Oh, of course, we awarded ourselves that, along with preeminence over everything else in existence.

The pronouncement of health care as a human right may flow, though I doubt it, from the following: “Everyone has a right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.” UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS. United Nations Article 25.1 10 December 1948.

I said above that I doubt this is the predicate of health care is a human right simply because I think most people are only dimly aware of the United Nations, much less what the U.N. has to say. Nonetheless, no matter who states it, the challenge remains: On what basis do humans claim rights for themselves?

Moments before Tonio took the oath swearing him into the military he was informed that in so doing he would surrender his rights under the U.S. Constitution and would henceforth come under the UCMJ, the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Furthermore, he was made aware that what rights he would have did not come free. As Samuel Coleridge said, “There are no rights without corresponding duties”. But Tonio, being a quietly independent soul, may have been listening in his mind to Robert Frost, who said, “I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way”. (When unwanted telephone calls come to me I just tell the caller to go and engage in a certain auto-erotic behavior.) My phone, my right.

Americans, by acquiescing to the daily destruction of their rights as citizens, seem to be heeding Frost in a perverse way. To the extent they have come to believe the way of the regime now in power is in fact their own way, they are marching in lockstep into the hell of Fascism. Please look back at that Universal Declaration of Human Rights above and ask yourself how the billions of dollars poured into the Pentagon, into the border monument to Trump, into the tax breaks to the planet killing fossil fuel industry, the move to abolish the Consumer Protection Agency and limit the right to sue manufacturers for damages, the reduction or elimination of social support such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the usurpation of power from the Legislative and the judicial branches of government to the Executive branch, the closure of dozens of rural hospitals in States that refuse to accept MedicAid expansion, and the de-funding of scientific programs not helpful to or in contradiction of the military-industrial complex honor and serve the “human rights” so confidently listed.

For many years I have been a strong supporter of several organizations that protect, rescue, rehabilitate, and/or provide homes for non-human animals. One of these, the Nonhuman Rights Project, is winning expensive court cases in favor of recognizing the inherent sentience, and therefore rights, of a variety of nonhuman animals. How strange it must be to courts and observers that serious, competent attorneys plead cases on behalf of captive elephants, chimpanzees, and other nonhuman animals kept in miserable confinement for the passing entertainment of a few shallow humans. No one is asking that these nonhumans be enfranchised with voting privileges; we ask only that they be freed from their tortuous captivity and allowed to live out their lives in certified sanctuaries. (For the record, I also support the sanctuaries). I also support organizations with a broader scope, such as Earthrights International. What? Rocks have rights? The formative philosophy is that Earth is a cohesive whole, not an amalgam of separate parts. As such, its presence gives it validity. And, its validity gives it rights.

I often hear the phrase, “God given rights”. Whose God? And what of those people who do not believe in a God for which there is no evidence? Do the believers have the right to smite the unbelievers? (I like that word smite. It’s so kinetic. A physicist would call it elegant.)

But again, no matter where we look, we have no factual basis for the concept of Rights as it is applied solely to humans. The claim that humans were created by a God is interesting, but must take into account that, according to the belief, so was everything else. Ah, but we are told that this God “breathed” a spark of divinity into humans, but not into anything else. Really? Who says so?

Since we have elevated ourselves above every other form of existence we are asked to reach down to the nonhuman animals and to exercise compassion toward them. Noblesse oblige. How very wonderful of us. But Mankind has long demonstrated that compassion, even decency, takes a very distant back seat to money and pleasure.

Some people flippantly state that Might Makes Right. In very specific and short-term settings there may be some truth to that. However, those people would be wise to remember the saying, Those who live by the sword die by the sword. The new corona-virus now rapidly spreading over all but one of the seven continents may prove mightier than Man’s ability to defeat it. Does its Might give it the Right?

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